Head Injuries Change How We Watch Sports

Several weeks ago, former Formula One Champion Michael Schumacher was moved from a hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland to the family’s home on Lake Geneva. Schumacher spent nearly the past 250 days in the hospital following a tragic ski accident. His injury occurring while wearing a helmet has garnered increased attention and debate as to head injuries and the safety of helmets.

In December of last year, The New York Times reported about the debate among experts regarding the nearly 70 percent of all snow-sports participants wearing helmets — nearly triple the number from 2003 — and why a correlated reduction in snow-sports-related injuries have not occurred. This is according to The National Ski Areas Association and a recent 2012 study from Western Michigan University.[1]

Some have hypothesized that helmets have given athletes a false sense of personal limits and created a sort of moral hazard. While others have blamed the increase in photography and video capturing devices for snow-sports, such as the use of GoPro for pushing the envelope.

But it is not just extreme sports that have received attention from onlookers regarding brain injuries. Just over a month ago, Michigan quarterback Shane Morris was sent back in the game having just absorbed an extraordinary tackle and possible head injury. Michigan fans were outraged and later called for U of M Athletic Director Dave Brandon to resign.

These recent stories are also coming at a time of growing discussion about the safety of the NFL as well. The NFL’s former players and family of players are now “opting-out in large numbers” from a class action settlement where players are or may be diagnosed with various cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or moderate dementia.

For an excellent documentary about sports-related head injuries and the incredible toll they can have on a person and a family, see The Crash Reel: The Ride of a Lifetime.

[1] See Also Skiing and Snowboarding-related Head Injuries in the United States: A retrospective Analysis from 2004-2010, Sebastian, Wills et al. published in the 2012 Annual Scientific Conference.